Cochran says he's determined to move county forward

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  Jerome Cochran says his first two years as House representative of the 4th District gave him the opportunity to hear his constituents and represent their wishes. In seeking his second term, Cochran says he plans to keep an ear open and an eye out for issues that can directly impact Carter County's residents.
  "I think I am the only candidate Carter Countians can trust to stand up for their values on spending in Nashville," said Cochran. "I've learned what an awesome responsibility this is."
   An Elizabethton-based attorney, Cochran is seeking the Republican nomination for the 4th District seat of the state House of Representatives on Aug. 5. He is being challenged in the GOP primary by John Holsclaw, the county's former assessor of property.
  Cochran said two high-profile county road projects were on track. The Northern Connector project was halted by the federal government after archaeologists found American Indian and early pioneer artifacts in the highway's corridor late last year.
  He said the Gap Creek Road, or Southern Connector, expansion was also moving forward despite allegations by his opponent that both projects had stopped. Cochran said the state Department of Transportation advised him land acquisition for the Gap Creek project would begin this year. Referring to the Northern Connector project Cochran stated: "When Indian artifacts are discovered at a highway site, the federal government comes in and halts the project."
  While acknowledging the county's manufacturing base had eroded in recent years, Cochran said service-based jobs were on the rise in Carter County. He cited the Wal-Mart and Lowe's superstore developments as new employers in a changing local and national economy.
  "It is bringing a bigger tax base for Carter County and it is funding some of the spending debt to go through for the county," he said.
  Cochran said attracting technically modern employers required an investment in education. "It is no longer regional competition with other counties," he said. "It is nationwide competition."
  Cochran confirmed that he voted against both Gov. Phil Bredesen's budget proposals during his two years in Nashville due to the state shared tax revenue taken away from the city of Elizabethton and Carter County governments. The city reported losing $115,000 in shared state revenues while the county lost nearly $200,000 in the 2004 fiscal year budget. Cochran said he found it "unacceptable" to approve a budget that cut local dollars when the state is sitting on fund reserves of nearly $200 million.
  He also addressed the county's battle to fund expansion of the Carter County Jail. The County Commission is considering a property tax rate increase of 30 cents from $2.22 to $2.52 per $100 of assessed property value to fund the expansion. A class-action lawsuit was filed in federal court against the county and its commissioners earlier this year regarding overcrowding conditions at the jail. A proposed settlement of the lawsuit reached last month is contingent on expansion of the jail to alleviate overcrowded conditions by 2007.
  Cochran said he, County Mayor Dale Fair, and state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, had pursued various options to find state dollars to assist the county but were told state funding was unavailable.
  Holsclaw has publicly implied the tax rate might not be at issue had grants to fund the jail's expansion were pursued by Cochran. Officials with the Tennessee Department of Corrections and Department of Public Safety told the Star last week that grant money to fund a municipal jail's expansion was non-existent at the state level.
  "I think it is reckless for someone to go out there and say that grants exist and not say where," said Cochran.
  Cochran said he did not understand Holsclaw's statement to be a "full-time" legislator as to contrast himself with the incumbent. He stated the state constitution shaped the General Assembly to function as a part-time, citizen legislature. He added that his own policy made since being elected in 2002 kept his law office functioning year round as a district office for his constituents.
  "You don't need an appointment to see me," said Cochran. "I'm very much a full-time representative."
  Cochran said he was proud of efforts made by legislators during the last session to reform state oversight into TennCare fraud and abuse problems as well as seeking to pass laws banning same-sex marriages in Tennessee. He also said he would continue to advocate lower taxes and search for new ways to improve funding to the state public education system and state services.
  "It is something I really enjoy, helping people," Cochran said. "I think I've done the job the people sent me down there to do."